One of the key storylines of the 2016 season is the lack of production by Jacksonville Jaguars' wide receiver Allen Robinson. In 2015, he had a breakout year gaining 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns, all while maintaining a 9.2 yard per yard average. Fast forward to the 2016 season, Robinson has only gained 336 yards on 70 targets which is good for just 5.2 YPT.
Last Thursday, the Jaguars faced a division opponent in the Tennessee Titans and were absolutely dominated. In this game, Blake Bortles targeted Robinson 15 times and he caught six of those passes for 70 yards. Out of those 70 yards, 60 came while the Jaguars were in garbage time down by 21 points or more.
As I was watching the tape, two underlying themes stood out to me. First, Bortles made some horrible throws and bad decisions while under pressure. Second, Robinson struggles separating against zone coverage due to his footwork.
Through seven games, Bortles has targeted Robinson a team-high of 70 times. That puts Robinson in line with the receiver volumes of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons. Both of these receivers have close to double the number of yards receiving as Robinson, however.
But one of the main differences between them and Robinson, besides who you’re praising on your fantasy team and who you’ve been damning, is the quarterback throwing to them. Not all passing attempts are created equally.
In Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, Bortles panics and leaves a perfectly clean pocket for no reason. He has plenty of time, but he sprints to the outside before getting chased out-of-bounds.
In Week 3 versus the Baltimore Ravens, Bortles locked into Robinson on multiple passing attempts forcing the ball to him even while he's covered. In the first play, Bortles stared Robinson down from start-to-finish on his slant-route allowing a linebacker to close the gap. Looking at the opposite side of the field, you have a wide open player that Bortles completely missed.
Later in the same game, the Jaguars run a deep over with (15) Robinson while (11) Marqise Lee clears space for him. Bortles doesn't see the underneath dropping linebacker and lobs it to him for the interception.
A week later versus the Indianapolis Colts, Robinson runs a fade route up the sideline. His speed release allows him to get his inside shoulder past (21) Vontae Davis. Since Bortles has terrible pocket presence it becomes a missed opportunity.
Bortles does not sense the pressure coming from his left by (56) Akeem Ayers, which is why the ball is underthrown since he can’t step into the pass. All he had to do was simply shift to his right and he would have had a clean area in the pocket to throw the pass.
Versus the Titans in Week 8, the pressure from the defense was overwhelming and Bortles simply couldn't keep his passes on target. He overthrew this pass not giving his receiver a chance to make a play at the ball.
While Bortles struggles have hindered much of the Jaguars' offensive production this season, Robinson deserves part of the blame too since he has problems separating versus zone coverage. A lot of his problems stem from his footwork coming out of breaks.
Robinson runs a bench route versus Tennessee’s "three deep-three under" defense. Robinson takes a speed release off the line of scrimmage, and takes five steps up the field. He then takes a "pressure step" (or a 45 degree step) using his left leg to start his turn. Up to this point, the route is completely fine.
It's his next step that's the problem. His right foot drifts way too far vertically instead cutting perpendicular across the field. This allows the cornerback to eat the cushion and break on his route.
From the broadcast view, the pass looks too far in front of the receiver, but in fact, it's actually a well thrown pass. Bortles assumes that Robinson's speed cut will be broken more sharply, but since Robinson drifted, he is out of position to make the catch.
Later in the second quarter, Bortles attempts to throw Robinson a back-shoulder fade but the pass falls incomplete. While it's certainly a miscommunication, I blame this on Allen Robinson since his route was unclear.
He does a quick three-step lateral release off the LOS, bursts up the field, and then he slows down and tries to bait the cornerback with a stutter. This is the problem. It makes the read muddy for Bortles who expects him to break back towards for a back-shoulder fade since the cornerback had deep positioning.
Remember, the read is based on the cornerback positioning and you can tell by reading Robinson's inside shoulder. If his inside shoulder is past the defender, the correct read is to throw a fade down the sideline. If his inside shoulder is behind the defender, the pass should convert into a comeback or a back-shoulder fade depending on the offensive system. Robinson's multiple cuts gave Bortles a muddy ready which is why he threw the back-shoulder throw instead of passing the ball down the sideline.
Now this didn't happen all the time, but making multiple moves on the same route, or getting too "fancy" with his breaks, does happen too frequently for me not to note it in my film study.
Another example of his poor route-running happened in the fourth quarter at the 8:10 mark. Robinson runs a speed-in versus the Titans' "two deep-four under" defense. Tennessee is blitzing and Bortles locks onto Robinson versus a cornerback who has inside leverage pre-snap.
Robinson has to run a quick break cut or else he will sacrifice his position to the defender. Instead, he runs a speed cut getting too vertical and doesn’t cross the face of his defender. This is what allows the almost interception.
Robinson is a physically gifted receiver and he is at his best when he is facing man-to-man coverage in space or facing press off the line of scrimmage. That's what earned him many accolades last season, and some of his touchdowns this season.
As a confirmation, I stepped back to the 2015 film and noted that much of his success came against man-to-man coverage. Take these two passes in the Week 13 match between the Jaguars and the Titans.
Robinson gained over 150 yards in this game and the main difference between the 2015 Titans and the 2016 Titans was the change in defensive coordinators between Ray Horton and Dick LeBeau. Those two coordinators had vastly different philosophies. Horton favored man coverage, while LeBeau favors zones and zone blitzing.
This difference in coverage along with Blake Bortles declining play are what held Robinson to just 10 yards in the first half. Until Robinson can perfect his route running technique versus zone defenses and Bortles improves his play, Robinson will continue to struggle to produce in the NFL.
The Seahawks realistically won’t face Jacksonville, but if you were wondering why this talented wide receiver was struggling this season, and perhaps further clues into why the Jags fired their offensive coordinator and not Gus Bradley (yet), you have your answer.